MHSAA Baseball: North Central takes district

MHSAA Baseball

The North Central High School baseball team poses with the Division 4 District 98 trophy on Friday, June 1, 2018, in Norway, Mich. (Adam Niemi/Iron Mountain Daily News)

NORWAY – North Central stood on the field and posed with the Division 4 District 94 trophy at Marion Park.

The Jets were the unlikely champions after they routed Stephenson 14-4 in the championship game. It was North Central’s first district title.

Unlikely, because they ousted the favored Bark River-Harris Broncos 9-4 in the semifinal game. In the other semifinal, Stephenson took a late lead and held off Norway 4-2.

“We pretty much put all three phases together,” North Central head coach Chad Holle said of the championship game. “We eliminated errors, Noah Gorzinski pitched a hell of a game, we hit the ball. We hit the ball good all day long.”

North Central plays in the Region 25 tournament against Rudyard at 12 p.m. EST on June 9 in Rudyard.

The Jets bats had been consistent all day with 10 hits against Stephenson in the district final and five against Bark River-Harris.

Gorzinski pitched the district championship for the Jets and kept Stephenson’s bats at bay. He struck out eight and walked five.

“Noah pitched a great game,” Holle said. “His curveball wasn’t working the way he liked it. Fastball he was able to locate that inside and outside and worked the batters good.”

North Central took a 5-0 lead before Stephenson generated some offense with two runs in the third. But the Eagles never dug more than a foothold against Gorzinski, stranding seven runners on base.

The Jets punctuated the lead with a four-run fifth and then a three-run sixth to invoke the 10-run mercy rule. North Central collected half of its hits in the final two innings. A triple by Hunter Riley scored the first two runs in the fifth.

The Eagles, who scarcely played doubleheaders throughout the season, had hit a wall with fatigue and lack of pitching.

“We’ve been kind of staying away from (doubleheaders), basically because of pitching depth. We usually don’t have more than two or three arms each year,” Stephenson head coach Jim Tharp said. “This year was no exception. When you’re playing three, four games a week with a pitch limit and everything else, it’s hard to keep everybody fresh. When we did the doubleheaders, they would get real tired. They were just collapsing. You saw it today – it was a long day for them.”

Tharp said the semifinal win against Norway was a high point for the team until North Central snuffed the momentum with its early 5-0 lead in the district final.

“Very sloppy. The kids were on a roller coaster of emotions after the win against Norway, which it wasn’t really a surprise to us,” Tharp said. “They counted us as the underdog coming in, but two times we played Norway, we had them beat, we handed them the game both times. Today it looked like it was going the same way and they hung it out and we ended up pulling off the victory.”

Semifinal games

Facing a 2-0 deficit in the late innings, Stephenson notched a four-run fifth to take a 4-2 lead over Norway in the semifinal.

Norway pitcher Trey Doda cruised for the first four innings until Stephenson’s patience at the plate caught up with him. Three of the Eagles’ runs came on wild pitches.

The Knights bats didn’t do enough to save Doda. Norway made just three outs on ground balls throughout the game, with the rest coming on flyouts.

The Knights stranded nine runners on base including four in scoring position.

Norway had the bases loaded with one out when Stephenson thwarted a one-out safety squeeze by the Knights in the first inning. Eagles pitcher Alex Hanson caught a popped up bunt and gunned the throw to first for the inning-ending double play.

“I think what was crucial was in the last four innings, we didn’t have a hit. That really hurt. There were some things in that first inning that weren’t successful,” Norway head coach Randy Van Gasse said. “There’s some things like that I look at and we should’ve pulled our pitcher after four and not let him go into the fifth. I don’t think he’s pitched more than four in the last several weeks. Things like that we considered it, talked about and committed to it and it cost us four runs.”

In the bottom of the seventh, the Knights lined out to first and shortstop before a lazy pop fly to right was caught to seal the game and Norway’s season.

“Their pitcher kept things under control,” Van Gasse said. “We talked about it before the game. We’d seen him twice. He’s a good pitcher and he was able to take a team like Stephenson and put it on his back and win the ball game.”

Doda went 4 2/3 innings and surrendered four runs on six hits with five walks and five strikeouts. Micah Wilson pitched the final 2 1/3 innings and gave up no runs with one walk and four strikeouts.

In the other semifinal game, North Central took a 3-0 lead in the second before the Broncos answered with two in the third. The Jets flipped the switch with a five-run fourth to take an 8-2 lead.

Championship game

Stephenson 002 011 – 4 4 6

North Central 231 143 – 14 10 1

Semifinals

Stephenson 000 040 0 – 4 8 5

Norway 011 000 0 – 2 4 4

BR-H 002 000 2 – 4 7 3

North Central 030 501 x – 9 5 4